Courts

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Denied: Appellate Court Rejects Rechnitz Appeal for Change of Venue

Posted By on Wed, Aug 2, 2017 at 3:56 PM

Shlomo Rechnitz - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE SACARAMENTO BEE / PAUL KITAGAKI JR.
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF THE SACARAMENTO BEE / PAUL KITAGAKI JR.
  • Shlomo Rechnitz
On July 27 an appellate court ruled against a second plea on behalf of skilled nursing mogul Shlomo Rechnitz requesting that an upcoming elder abuse and wrongful death civil trial be moved closer to Rechnitz's home and center of operations in Los Angeles County.

The suit is being brought by local law firm Janssen Malloy, LLP on behalf of the family of Ralph Sorensen, who died in January of 2016 due to an infected pressure ulcer that was allegedly related to understaffing at Seaview Rehabilitation & Wellness Center. Seaview was named as a defendant, as well as its associated corporate entities, including Rockport Healthcare Services, the facility's administrator Lorena Smith and Brius Management Company. Rechnitz is Brius's owner and is personally named in the lawsuit.

In the initial request for a venue change, Rechnitz's attorney argued that he could not get a fair trial in Humboldt County due to negative media coverage and that the distance from Los Angeles would make it difficult for Rechnitz and his wife, Tamar, to attend the trial. The bid for a change of venue was rejected on May 26 by Humboldt County Superior Court Judge Timothy Cissna.

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Sunday, July 16, 2017

Squireses Take G Street Neighbors Back to Court

Posted By on Sun, Jul 16, 2017 at 9:53 AM

The now red-tagged home at 1635 G St. - PHOTO BY THADEUS GREENSON
  • Photo by Thadeus Greenson
  • The now red-tagged home at 1635 G St.
A few weeks after residents along a stretch of G Street in Eureka received letters in June announcing they had won their small claims case against the city’s most notorious landlords, another arrived in the mail.

The case was going back to court.

The landlords, Floyd and Betty Squires, had appealed Judge Timothy Cissna’s ruling that found the couple failed to properly manage two buildings on the street and awarded neighbors varying amounts in damages.

In his decision, Cissna said there was “substantial, credible evidence” to show the residences at 1625 and 1635 G St. qualified as “nuisances.”

But, under the small claims appeal process, all the Squireses needed to do was pay a fee and fill out a form to be granted what is called a "trial de novo" before a different judge in a bid to throw out the thousands of dollars in damages Cissna had distributed among the 20 neighbors.

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Thursday, June 29, 2017

Judge Gives Attorney 30 Days to Refile Public Defender Lawsuit

Posted By on Thu, Jun 29, 2017 at 4:02 PM

David Marcus - SCREENSHOT FROM THE LASSEN COUNTY TIMES DIGITAL ARCHIVES
  • SCREENSHOT FROM THE LASSEN COUNTY TIMES DIGITAL ARCHIVES
  • David Marcus
A judge today dismissed a lawsuit alleging the county’s public defender did not meet minimum qualifications required for the post, but gave local attorney Patrik Griego 30 days to refile, saying he should have more information about his contention after questioning David Marcus under oath during an upcoming deposition.

The lawsuit seeking to block Marcus’ controversial appointment centers on the California government code section that states public defender candidates must have "been a practicing attorney in all the courts of the state for at least the year preceding the date of his election or appointment."

While visiting Judge Marjorie Carter noted her “inclination” was to overrule the county’s move to dismiss the case and “get on with this,” she said there needs to be further clarification on the extent of Marcus’ legal work history before the lawsuit could proceed.

“You will probably know more after your deposition,” Carter said told Griego after hearing brief statements from attorneys in the case.

Griego argued that the state code requires more than just practicing law in the previous year, but also making appearances — either in person or via legal filings — in both the criminal and civil courts.

Marcus, he contends, did not meet that threshold, with questions being raised about whether the public defender practiced law at all during the year before his appointment while he was living in Florida working as an insurance adjuster.

Griego said the criteria was included by lawmakers to ensure the indigent defendants being served by the public defender’s office were afforded qualified counsel.

County Counsel Jeffrey Blanck asserted that the state simply requires a public defender to have been a practicing attorney — which could include giving legal advice or preparing documents — before taking office, adding there was no case law he found with a requirement to have “stepped foot in a courtroom.”

“It’s our position he was a practicing attorney,” Blanck told the judge.

Blanck said the statute boils down to the question: Have you done legal work in the past 12 months?

“If the answer is yes, I don’t think it needs to be quantified as to what is too much and what is too little,” Blanck told the judge.

Carter acknowledged an interpretation of the statute’s meaning would need to be sorted out but said that was not the issue before the court today.

Marcus last practiced criminal law when he served as Lassen County’s public defender from 2005 to 2011. According to the resume Marcus submitted to Humboldt County, he worked for the Walnut Creek law firm Cella, Lange and Cella from 2012 through 2016 as a contract attorney while living in Florida. What specific legal work he did for the firm during that time is unclear.

He has faced a bumpy road since being selected for the public defender’s job, from members of the local defense bar criticizing the county's hiring process to a pair of no-confidence letters from public defender's office employees.

Marcus attended the court hearing, but left quickly after the judge’s decision and was not immediately available for comment.

Blanck stated in an email to the Journal that the county agrees “with the Court’s ruling that the Petitioners had not stated sufficient facts to determine whether or not the practicing law standard was met.”

“We will wait and see what they put in their Second Amended Writ,” he wrote.
Griego said there’s zero evidence to show Marcus had done any legal work for Cella, Lange and Cella and he plans to refile the lawsuit after gathering more information, including Marcus’ testimony at Monday’s deposition.

“We feel pretty confident that this idea that he worked for a friend’s law firm was just made up,” Griego said after the hearing.
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Jury Convicts 1, Acquits Another in Marijuana Deal Shooting

Posted By on Thu, Jun 29, 2017 at 3:55 PM

Arcata  police officers at the scene of the May 9, 2015, shooting of Trevor Mark Harrison. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • Arcata police officers at the scene of the May 9, 2015, shooting of Trevor Mark Harrison.
Two years after a 38-year-old Arcata resident was shot to death in what officials say was a marijuana deal gone bad, a jury has found one man guilty of second degree murder but acquitted another on all charges.

Billy Joe Giddings was convicted in the death Trevor Mark Harrison, who was shot in his mother’s home on the 2000 block of Eastern Avenue, in Arcata, late on the evening of May 9, 2015. He died later at the hospital.

Giddings and his co-defendant Robert Louis Huntzinger, who had faced the same murder and weapons-related charges, were arrested separately a few days after Harrison’s death.
The two men had been engaged in a marijuana deal with Harrison’s mother when her son was shot.

The verdict was returned on Tuesday after more than two days of deliberations following a seven day trial covered extensively by the Lost Coast Outpost’s Rhonda Parker, whose coverage of the case can be found here.

Giddings now faces a sentence of life in prison.

Prosecutor Roger Rees said in an email to the Journal that Huntzinger still faces charges in three other felony cases and is due back in court July 6 for a preliminary hearing in those matters.
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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Huff Among Democrats Suing The Donald

Posted By on Tue, Jun 20, 2017 at 4:19 PM

Huffman - FILE
  • File
  • Huffman
Remember last week when 200 Congressional Democrats filed a federal lawsuit alleging that President Donald Trump has been profiting from business dealings with foreign governments in violation of the Constitution? Well, North Coast Congressman Jared Huffman was one of them.

In a Facebook post, Huffman explained that the lawsuit stems in part from Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns and “flouting basic standards of ethics and transparency.

“This lawsuit, in which I’m one of the plaintiffs, has a good chance of forcing disclosures that will reveal the extent of his financial obligations and conflicts of interest,” Huffman wrote. “It’s unfortunate that President Trump broke his promise to disclose his tax returns voluntarily, and also broke his promise to create a blind trust to prevent conflicts. Those broken promises, and the GOP Congress’ refusal to step up and do meaningful oversight, are why this lawsuit is necessary.”


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Monday, June 12, 2017

Judge Marilyn Miles to Retire in July

Posted By on Mon, Jun 12, 2017 at 4:59 PM

Humboldt County Courthouse - FILE
  • file
  • Humboldt County Courthouse
The Humboldt County Superior Court announced today that Judge Marilyn Miles will be stepping down July 31.

A picture of Miles taken shortly after she was sworn in, back in 1998. - FILE
  • File
  • A picture of Miles taken shortly after she was sworn in, back in 1998.
That will once again leave local courtrooms short on staffing just a few weeks after newly appointed Judge Greg Elvine-Kreis, who officially starts June 19, takes over the seat vacated by Bruce Watson following his retirement in January of 2016.

Miles was sworn in as Humboldt County’s first woman superior court judge in June of 1998 following a court consolidation and serving on the municipal bench for one year.

“During that time, I have enjoyed working with my fellow judges and wonderful court staff, and have thoroughly enjoyed my job. I certainly wish my colleagues and the whole court the very best,” Miles said in the press release on her retirement.


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Friday, June 2, 2017

A Band of Neighbors Successfully Sues the Squireses

Posted By on Fri, Jun 2, 2017 at 2:07 PM

The now red-tagged home at 1635 G Street. - PHOTO BY THADEUS GREENSON
  • Photo by Thadeus Greenson
  • The now red-tagged home at 1635 G Street.
Residents along a stretch of G Street say they had one main goal in mind when they grouped together to take Eureka’s most notorious landlords to court: They wanted their neighborhood back.

Conditions at two buildings on the street owned by Floyd and Betty Squires had continued to deteriorate, becoming magnets for drug activity and police calls, neighbors say. They saw an uptick in crime and, at times, felt unsafe walking out their doors.

The last straw was a shooting in December at one of the residences that served as a rooming house. Shortly afterward, neighbors filed a series of small claims cases that — after being parred down — left 20 to be heard in court earlier this year.

The effort paid off this week with news arriving in their mailboxes that Superior Court Judge Timothy Cissna awarded them varying amounts in damages — ranging from around $1,500 to $5,000 — after finding the Squireses failed to properly manage the two side-by-side buildings.

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Friday, May 26, 2017

Judge Denies Skilled Nursing Defendants' Change of Venue Bid

Posted By on Fri, May 26, 2017 at 3:50 PM

Shlomo Rechnitz - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE SACARAMENTO BEE / PAUL KITAGAKI JR.
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF THE SACARAMENTO BEE / PAUL KITAGAKI JR.
  • Shlomo Rechnitz
Judge Timothy Cissna denied skilled nursing magnate Shlomo Rechnitz’s request for a change of venue in a wrongful death and elder abuse lawsuit following a short hearing today, rejecting claims that he couldn’t get a fair trial in Humboldt County.

Cissna said the case should be tried locally because it involves a substantial personal injury that occurred in Humboldt County and a recently named defendant lives in the area.

The judge also dismissed arguments made in the change of venue motion that contended “negative news articles” would taint the local jury pool, saying there hadn’t been a showing of “undue prejudice.”

The civil case before the judge — one of three currently pending against Rechnitz and the skilled nursing facilities he owns in Humboldt County — alleges low staffing levels at Seaview Rehabilitation and Wellness Center contributed to the death of Ralph Sorensen. The 76 year old died in January of 2016 from complications related to an infected pressure ulcer.

Seaview, Rechnitz, Brius and administrative services company Rockport are named in the lawsuit. (Read more about the case here.)

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Monday, May 22, 2017

Gov Taps Elvine-Kreis as Humboldt's Next Judge

Posted By on Mon, May 22, 2017 at 4:28 PM

Elvine-Kreis
  • Elvine-Kreis
Humboldt County will soon have a new superior court judge.

Gov. Jerry Brown announced this afternoon that he has appointed Conflict Counsel Greg Elvine-Kreis to the judicial seat vacated by Bruce Watson’s retirement in January of 2016. While Watson's term ended at the beginning of this year, Elvine-Kreis' will run until January of 2019, meaning he will have to be elected in 2018 to retain the position, according to the governor's office. Judges are typically elected to six-year terms.

Elvine-Kreis, who has practiced law for about 14 years, filled the role of interim public defender after Kevin Robinson’s retirement and is widely respected in the county courthouse. The 47-year-old graduate of University of San Diego School of Law is a Humboldt State University alum and has worked locally since 2010, when he was hired on as a deputy public defender.

Reached this afternoon, Elvine-Kreis said he’s excited to take on the new post, which will see him start in the family law division, where he expects to stay for three years.

“I think it’ll be great,” he said. “It’s going to be exciting to relearn a new area of law and I think it’s going to be challenging, which I’m excited about, too.”

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Friday, May 19, 2017

Lawson's Mom Announces $10K Reward, Issues Emotional Plea to Witnesses

Posted By on Fri, May 19, 2017 at 7:33 AM

Michelle Chermaine Lawson issues an emotional plea for anyone who may have information about her son's death to come forward. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • Michelle Chermaine Lawson issues an emotional plea for anyone who may have information about her son's death to come forward.
The mother of slain Humboldt State University sophomore David Josiah Lawson stood on the campus quad yesterday afternoon and announced a $10,000 award for information leading to the arrest and conviction of her son’s killer and issued an impassioned plea for witnesses to come forward.

Flanked by family, Arcata Police Chief Tom Chapman and a couple of her son’s friends, Michelle Chermaine Lawson told the story of what she was doing when she received word her son had been fatally stabbed at an Arcata house party.

“On April 15, I received a phone call from my son’s cell phone at 3:36 in the morning,” she said. “I answered the phone by saying, ‘DJ, What’s wrong?’”

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